A TransCan Environment

  • Laird Christensen (Editor), Mark C. Long (Editor) and Fred Waage (Editor)
    Teaching North American Environmental Literature. MLA (purchase at Amazon.ca)
  • Smaro Kamboureli (Editor) and Christl Verduyn (Editor)
    Critical Collaborations: Indigeneity, Diaspora, and Ecology in Canadian Literary Studies. Wilfrid Laurier University Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Tina Northrup

Critical Collaborations: Indigeneity, Diaspora, and Ecology in Canadian Literary Studies is the third collection of essays to emerge from the TransCanada conference series. Following on the heels of Trans.Can.Lit: Resituating the Study of Canadian Literature and Shifting the Ground of Canadian Literary Studies, it is at once a reflection of the TransCanada project’s achievements so far, and a prospect of what is yet to come.

In her preface to Trans.Can.Lit, Smaro Kamboureli describes the concerns that brought the TransCanada project to life—namely, concerns that recent and multiplying changes to the discipline of Canadian literary studies seemed “symptomatic,” at least in part, “of how the humanities continued to be under siege.” Through its communal attention to intersections between Indigenous law and legal studies, decolonizing scholarship and pedagogy, and studies in diaspora, environment, and ecocriticism, Critical Collaborations foregrounds the TransCanada project’s attention to critical differences between innovation and interdisciplinarity as defined by neoliberal pressures on the one hand, and, on the other hand, innovation, interdisciplinarity, collaboration, transdisciplinarity, and trans-systemics shaped by strategic and politicized “kinship” relations.

Christl Verduyn suggests in her conclusion to the collection that the TransCanada project will prove to be as formative to Canadian literary studies as were watershed gatherings such as the Women and Words conference (1983), Writing Thru Race (1994), and the Third International Women’s Book Fair (1988). Reading Critical Collaborations alongside its precursors, it is difficult to doubt her. Kamboureli stated explicitly in Trans.Can.Lit that the TransCanada project’s task would be “to rejuvenate the field through a renewed sense of collective purpose,” and I for one found it impossible to read this latest volume with anything less than a sense of excitement and—perhaps not surprisingly—interpellation. This surely has something to do with the fact that the collection’s contributors are all prominent members, and in some cases leaders, of their respective disciplines, whose voices carry uncommon weight, and, together, form an impressive and persuasive assembly. Although the book is neither a manifesto nor an edict, like its precursors it attempts to put its finger on the pulse of Canadian literary studies as they exist today, while simultaneously pointing that pulsating body in the direction it ought to go.

Just as Critical Collaborations models innovative textual and cultural analyses while also providing introductions, for those who want and need them, to some of the disciplinary “kin” that may shape Canadian literary studies in the years to come, Teaching North American Environmental Literature serves as an introduction and guide to the field it surveys, and also as a cache of useful pedagogical ideas and resources. Beginning with chapters that establish pertinent critical contexts, the collection then turns to an expansive selection of essays that describe courses given in colleges, universities, and independent educational programs throughout the continent. A detailed and well-organized list of scholarly resources is provided at the end.

Teaching has been out for some time now—long enough for Greg Garrard to have already provided a useful survey of the essential similarities and differences between it and its precursor, Fred Waage’s Teaching Environmental Literature: Materials, Methods, Resources. In some small ways, the collection is already dated; for instance, an essay by Pamela Banting notes that Glotfelty and Fromm’s The Ecocriticism Reader (1996) includes little Canadian representation, and that “there is, to date, no parallel Canadian text.” Ella Soper and Nicholas Bradley’s Greening the Maple: Canadian Ecocriticism in Context (2013) has since met that need, and indeed that collection might make a useful complement to the essays in Teaching that look to Canadian contexts. On the whole, there are far fewer of these than there are essays on American literatures and cultures. That comparative dearth does not diminish the broad usefulness of the collection, nor its pertinence to transnational (not to mention bioregional) studies in environmental literatures; however, it will limit its usefulness for those who are interested in Canadian literary studies and environmental education in Canada specifically. Among the essays that do look to Canada, Alanna F. Bondar’s and Bob Henderson’s contributions offer accounts of courses in ecofeminist literatures and travel literatures, respectively, while Banting and Catriona Sandilands help to establish foundational critical contexts.

This review “A TransCan Environment” originally appeared in Agency & Affect. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 223 (Winter 2014): 163-64.

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